Let’s talk about another taboo; Weight-loss surgery.

  • “You’ve gained a bit of weight haven’t you?”
  • “If you want to live to grow old, you need to lose weight now while you’re still young.”
  • “You take after your [insert relative/ancestor’s name here], she was also overweight.”
  • “Why don’t you follow this diet, I’ve lost the 8kg I had gained with it.”
    “Speak to [insert nutritionist name here], I lost 10kg with her fitness-challenge.”
  • “Cut out sweets and soft-drinks and eat more veg u tara kif tonqos malajr”
  • “Skip that movie and go for a walk instead.”
  • Jahasra if only you lose weight, you’ll be so beautiful u forsi xi darba jigbrok xi hadt”

If you’ve ever been overweight at any point in your life, you’ve probably heard most if not all of these phrases being said to you, sometimes by “friends”, sometimes by family, but a lot of the times by people you hardly know and should keep their opinions about your image to themselves.

YES – I’m a morbidly obese 33 year old woman.
NO – I didn’t need you to tell me I was overweight, trust me, I know it just like everyone else who is in my shoes knows it.
NO – I didn’t need to lose the weight to be confident.
NO – I didn’t need to lose the weight to find the love of my life.
NO – I didn’t need to lose the weight to be happy.

2 months ago I weighed 139.3kg. This morning my scale told me I’m 114kg. So how did I loose 25 kilos in 2 months? I flew to Istanbul and had a gastric bypass.

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January 2020 – At my highest weight.

Roaming the hospital ward’s corridor all we could hear was other people speaking Maltese. Researching the hospital before I choose it, we also came across a large community of Maltese people going up to Istanbul to undergo one of the three most-common weight loss surgeries. So why is it still a stigma to talk about it? Why are these hundreds of Maltese people resorting to going up to Istanbul for this procedure instead of doing it in Malta? Just, why?

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On the day we flew to Istanbul for our operation – January 2021

Let’s go back to the beginning; this all started 3 years ago. I was overweight almost my whole life, but I would diet and exercise and lose a large amount of weight, then the minute I relax from the daily fitness routine, I instantly start gaining weight again. My husband was somewhat the same, and so around 3 years ago he started researching other permanent options and came across the successful results of weight-loss surgery. We contacted the only surgeon at Mater Dei who does them, and eventually were called for the first appointment to meet with him. We had already decided at that point that should all work well, he will do it first and if we see that it’s something I’d like to do later, I’ll enrol in a couple of years.

The day of that first appointment came, I couldn’t attend with him as I had a very important deadline at work which I couldn’t miss, and so we asked my mother-in-law to go with him and I made sure I researched as much as I could myself before and gave Alan a number of questions which I’d like to be answered before we take this decision. Alan was met with hostility by our state hospital:

  • He had to bring in his wife so the surgeon could first assess our relationship to make sure our relationship is strong enough to handle such a change in dynamic. This was a surgeon NOT a physiatrist. Welcome back to 1900!
  • He had to lose 40 kilos before surgery and prove that he can keep them off . We weren’t able to keep it off, hence why we’re resorting to a surgery. If we were able to do this, we wouldn’t need the surgery to begin with!
  • He needed to undergo a psych evaluation;
  • He needed to undergo several tests by different specialist to determine him as fit for surgery;
  • And most of all, the waiting list was 2 years long!

But fret not, if you fork out €15,000 in hard-earned cash, you can skip all of the above and do it at a private hospital by THE SAME SURGEON and the waiting list for this is less than a week. This makes you wonder, do you really need all the above bureaucracy, or was this surgeon sourcing out clients for his private practice through the state hospital?

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Early 2020 – At my highest weight

We’ve decided to sign up anyway for Alan to get on the waiting-list at Mater Dei, we figured nothing could hurt really, and two years would go by quickly. He started going to the classes and dieting and exercising as they required him to. He was doing well, but the issue was once again keeping the weight off for an extended period of time. Two years passed, two and a half years passed and still no word on where he’s at on the waiting list. Then three years down the line, he was sent a letter to attend a session (part of the program which you’re meant to do during the 2 years leading up to the surgery) and this appointment was for 14 months later! This would mean that one of the appointments would have come after over 4 years of being on the waiting list that was meant to be 2-years long and this wasn’t the end of it, we were actually not even half the way there.

With rage and anger towards this system and the monopoly the surgeon has created that him and him alone is the one who will decide when you’ll have the surgery (if you have it at all), we started looking at other options and we finally decided on a hospital in Istanbul. We met a lot of Maltese people who have done the surgery at the same hospital to ask about their experience, the care they were provided whilst there and the after-care and we asked every one of them “Why did you go to Istanbul and did not do it in Malta?”. Surprisingly enough, most of these individuals have a very similar story to my husband and after years of trying to do it at Mater Dei and not affording the hefty fee the same surgeon asked them for to do it privately, they, like us, looked elsewhere and found Istanbul to be a perfect solution.

Taken two weeks ago! 25kg less within less than 2 months after Weight Loss Surgery.

After an extensive screening, we got a quotation from Istanbul and we were thinking it’s going to cost maybe €10,000 or €11,000 as we’ve heard it was cheaper than Malta, but weren’t sure at how much cheaper it was. We started saving for Alan to do the surgery from months before just in case we had to result to do it privately. To our surprise the price-tag was close to €3,000. Which meant that the cost in Malta was 500% more expensive than that in Istanbul. With this on our side we decided to do it together. Why not embark on this journey as a couple we thought? It would surely be easier to go through the post-op stages of food together and just do it once, and so we did.

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Feeling good about myself 🙂 Taken last week!

For those of you still working out the math, let me break it down for you. For the fee that we paid we got:

  • 1 week hospital stay for 2 each of us with a private room that resembled a hotel more than a hospital (private bathroom, comfortable sofa, high-speed internet, TV with Netflix);
  • 2 operations;
  • 2 pre-op tests;
  • 4 covid-tests (1 on arrival and 1 on departure for each of us);
  • A ward with an abundance of friendly staff members (the ratio was 1 nurse for every 3 patients);
  • A level of cleanliness which I’ve never experienced before in a hospital in Malta (including stuff like twice-a-day change of linen and towels);
  • An extensive meeting with a nutritionist specialized in post-weight-loss surgery nutrition;
  • Airport transfers on both arrival and departure for both of us;
  • An on-site interpreter that was available 24/7;
  • A team of medical staff raging from nurses to the surgeon himself being available on WhatsApp at a moment’s notice even after the surgery for any questions we may have;
  • All the medicines (Blood thinners, stomach protectors, etc.) to last us until we needed them (some of them for 3 months, others for just 1 month) for the both of us;
  • We were also offered (but we didn’t avail of this as we didn’t need to) to get an accompanying person each and both board and 3 meals a day for this guest would have been at no additional cost;
  • Flights Malta-Istanbul-Malta for 2 passengers.

All this for €8,000. So 4 people can have the surgery and all extras including flights in Istanbul for the same price that in Malta only 1 person gets the surgery and a one-night hospital stay without anything else. No wonder the Maltese people are feeling abandoned by what’s on offer in Malta in this aspect and going to places like Istanbul for their medical procedures.

This morning soaking some rays of sun!

One can’t help but wonder WHY?

  • “Why does it cost 500% more expensive in Malta than abroad?”
  • “Why are we told there’s a 2-year waiting list at Mater Dei, and after 3 years on this infamous waiting list we’re not even half way there?”
  • “Why is the state-paid surgeon searching for clients for his private practice at the state-run hospital?”
  • “Why is there only one surgeon in Malta for such surgeries?”
  • “Just … why?!”

Tune in next week for part 2 of this story….

Tiffany Abela-Wadge